This past Sunday, I was getting ready to slog my way through a one-and-a-half-star review of “The Expendables 3,” which I saw Friday night, when I decided to check the weekend box office results to make sure it was really the right film to review. Much to my surprise, the latest installment of the tired action franchise lost out on even the #3 position, getting upset by the debuting comedy “Let’s Be Cops.” I scrambled out the door to get to whatever showing of the winning film I could find, all the while muttering about how I was going to have to waste my time and money on a film that had been getting some of the worst reviews I’ve seen all year. Perhaps it was because the bar was set so low that I couldn’t help but find something to like about this film.
The film stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. of TV’s “New Girl.” I’ve given “New Girl” a few chances over the years and have never found it funny enough to follow. I am, however, a huge fan of “Happy Endings,” a show that starred Wayans and was arguably one of the best comedies on television during its too-short run. My love of “Happy Endings” probably makes me biased toward Wayans and might explain why I found his character in this movie more tolerable than Johnson’s, though both are jerks who should have their mouths washed out with soap.
In case it wasn’t clear from the film’s over-advertising, the story follows Johnson and Wayans as they impersonate cops after some confusion at what Johnson thinks is a costume party. They soon find that strangers do respect their fake badges, and they use their newfound authority to pick up girls, get free food and drinks and boss people around. All is fun and games until they tangle with some local mobsters led by the surprisingly scary Mossi (James D’Arcy). This puts them in legitimate danger from criminals, plus there’s the possibility that a real cop (Rob Riggle) could discover that they’ve been faking this whole time.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to the humor in this movie is that the spoken jokes aren’t funny and the physical gags are. My favorite gag was Wayans ordering captive criminals to do embarrassing dance moves. I also liked it when the characters got hit, beaten up, or otherwise hurt. These guys, especially Johnson, are really unlikeable at times with their whininess, selfishness, obnoxiousness and of course the way they abuse their phony power (not to mention that they pretend to have the power in the first place). That’s why I say that I don’t care for the film’s verbal humor, though I did like a segment where they interrogate and turn a suspect (Keegan-Michael Key), if for no other reason than that they make a crack about rapper I actively dislike.
The film really falls apart in its final act when it inexplicably turns into a straight-up action movie and takes itself way too seriously. There’s a stretch that lasts a double-digit number of minutes where I didn’t detect a single joke being made. This “comedy” had a hard enough time getting me to laugh when it was trying to be funny, playing it straight really wipes out any momentum it had.
I’ve been hearing bad things about “Let’s Be Cops.” Terrible, savage, worst-of-the-year things. It’s a bad movie, I won’t say otherwise. But it doesn’t deserve the hate that critics are piling on it. Their ire would be better spent on “Expendables 3.” Technically, the film was a pleasant surprise. I can’t deny that I left the theater in a positive mood. And of course, it helped that the crowd in my theater was really into it. Again, I’m not saying that “Let’s Be Cops” is a “good” movie, but at least it made for a decent party.
Two Stars out of Five. “Let’s Be Cops” is rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use. Its running time is 104 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.